Acts 10: A Closer Look
by Lois E. Gibson
Have you ever stopped to carefully examine the "proof texts" that are used to support the UPC/Apostolic teaching on speaking in tongues? Did you know that speaking in tongues is only mentioned in three places in Acts and happened with just a small number of believers, all who never prayed to, or expected to, speak in tongues?
In Acts 2, there were about 120 people. In Acts 19, there were about twelve men. In Acts 10, there is an unknown number, but all the people fit into the house. In all the instances of speaking in tongues in the book of Acts, we are probably speaking of under 240 believers. This is certainly not how it is portrayed by Apostolics or even mainstream Pentecostal churches. It is told that thousands spoke in tongues on the day of Pentecost alone. But did they? The Bible does not say this.
Let's examine Acts 10, taking the time to go through it slowly.
One thing that many fail to understand, & it often is not taught in Pentecostal churches, is that the events in the book of Acts happened over the course of many years. It wasn't just a few days or months between Acts 2, 10 and 19.
When you read this chapter, you need to also consider what happened in the beginning to better understand what is going on.
It starts off with telling us about Cornelius, who was a centurion of Italian decent. He was a Gentile, but believed in God and helped the Jewish people. He was devout and regularly prayed. His family also believed in God.
An angel appears to Cornelius in a vision and tells him to send men to Joppa to get Peter. He does as the angel told him.
As Luke shares the story, he now turns his attention toward Peter. It is the next day since the vision of Cornelius.
Peter is praying, but hungry at the same time. While others were preparing the meal, Peter falls into a trance. He sees a great sheet being lowered from heaven, filled with animals that were not lawful for Jewish people to eat. He hears a voice telling him to get up, kill and eat these animals.
Peter is taken by surprise and says he will not and that he has never eaten these unclean and unholy animals.
A voice comes to him again and says, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." This happens three times and then the sheet is taken back into the sky.
The Old Testament
We need to look to the Old Testament to understand what was happening. To the Jewish people, God had deemed some animals to be unclean for them to eat. It didn't mean that all these animals were unclean in themselves, but they were to be unclean to the Jewish people. Remember that when God made all things, he said it was good.
In the book of Leviticus, God spells out many things that the Jewish people are not permitted to eat, such as the fat of certain animals that were used for offerings or the blood of any animal or bird.
The 11th chapter explains in detail what may and may not be eaten. They were also not to touch the dead carcasses of any of these forbidden animals or they would be considered unclean till the evening.
In like manner, the Jewish people considered all Gentiles to be unclean. They were looked upon as dogs. A glimpse of this can be seen in Galatians 2:11-21, where Paul shares how he scolded Peter for refraining from eating with Gentile believers. A Jewish person did not eat with Gentiles, nor go into their home.
All of this needs to be kept in mind as we continue looking at Acts 10. It is important in understanding what happened and why.
When one understands how the Jewish people looked upon the Gentiles, then we can understand the need for God to give Peter the trance he did and what that meant. The Gentiles were considered unclean and God was speaking to him, saying what God has cleansed, he was not to call unclean anymore. Peter didn't fully understand what God showed him until he was at the home of Cornelius and saw that God had accepted the Gentiles.
Peter Goes To The Gentiles
While Peter was yet pondering the meaning of what he saw, the men Cornelius sent to get him arrived at the gate. The Spirit then spoke to Peter that three men were looking for him. He said not to doubt anything that was happening, as God was behind it.
Peter inquires of the men why they seek him and they proceed to explain what happened. Hearing this, he invites them in to spend the night.
The next day, Peter and the men get up and head toward the home of Cornelius. Other believers from Joppa accompany them. They arrive the following day at Caesarea. Cornelius is waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends.
He makes the mistake of falling at the feet of Peter and worshiping him. Peter immediately stopped him and raised him up, telling Cornelius that he was just a man, like himself.
As they speak together, he enters his home and finds many people inside. Peter begins to address them.
He is now understanding what God showed him in the trance. He shared that they themselves knew it was unlawful for a Jew to associate or visit with those outside their race. He goes on to say God has shown him that he is to call no man unclean or unholy and because of this, he didn't object when they came for him. Peter then asks why they have sent for him.
Cornelius starts to re-tell the story. He concludes by saying that they are all present, to hear everything God has commanded Peter to say.
Peter Speaks To The Gentiles
Peter has started to share with the Gentiles, saying how God accepts anyone who is willing to come to Him.
He then starts to preach Jesus, reminding them of the events that happened concerning him. He shares about being a witness to the things Jesus did and that he was crucified and rose again.
Peter goes on to share how Jesus appeared to them after his death and that they were ordered by him to preach to the people about Jesus.
He teaches that all of the prophets bear witness of Jesus.
Peter states that everyone who believes in Jesus, receives forgiveness of their sins through his name. Note that he does not say by being water baptized, but by believing in Jesus.
Then in verse 44 of Acts 10, something happens that was not expected, nor anticipated, by the Jewish believers. While Peter was still sharing about Jesus, the Holy Spirit came on all who were listening.
We need to move slowly through what is now happening as you may have only heard a UPC/apostolic explanation.
The Gentiles Receive The Holy Spirit
The next verse says that the Jewish believers, who came with Peter, were absolutely amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the Gentiles.
Why? As explained previously, the Jewish people considered the Gentiles to be dogs. For God to have given them His Spirit, in the same manner as he had initially given it to the Jews in the beginning, was totally unexpected. They never imagined such a thing would happen.
It was a "you had to be there to believe it" moment. It's probably a good thing that it wasn't just Peter who went to the home of Cornelius. If it had been, he may have had a harder time later convincing the Jewish believers that God had indeed accepted the Gentiles. As it was, he had to command the Jewish believers present with him, to water baptize the Gentiles after this happened.
Because the Jews looked upon Gentiles with great disgust (similar to the Samaritans) and believed them to be unholy and unclean, God had to do something to prove to them that He had accepted these people, just as He had accepted them. This is why we see the things that are happening.
The Jewish believers who came with Peter to the house of Cornelius are astonished that God has accepted the Gentiles.
Starting with verse 46, we see that these believers heard them speak with tongues and exalt God. Tongues actually means languages. This was not gibberish or repeated sounds/syllables. They were actual languages being spoken. And at least one of the languages was understood by those present or they would not have known they were magnifying God, as the Bible clearly states.
This takes us back to Acts 2, when those present from other countries understood the languages being spoken. They heard them speaking about the mighty works of God.
Things To Consider
Consider what Paul taught about speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:22, that tongues are for a sign to unbelievers. This is exactly what happened in these two incidents found in Acts 2 and 10. In Acts 10, the Jewish believers didn't believe God had accepted the Gentiles. In Acts 2, we had people from all around the world who had not placed their faith in Jesus as the Messiah.
Now we get to a place in verse 47 that is sometimes taught incorrectly in Apostolic circles. It is often said that Peter now commands these Gentiles to be water baptized, but this is not so. Read slowly and pay close attention to what is said.
Peter says, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" (NASB) This is glanced over too quickly, as some rush to verse 48, where Peter orders them to be water baptized.
Remember how the Gentiles were viewed by the Jewish people? The believers that came with Peter were not expecting God to accept and give them His Spirit. But indeed He had. Peter starts by talking about refusing the water of baptism to them.
Surely the Gentiles would not refuse themselves. It is to the Jewish believers he is speaking, not to the Gentiles.
Peter is actually commanding the Jewish believers with him, to water baptize these Gentile believers. After this, these Gentiles ask Peter to stay with them for a few days. Since the issue we have been discussing is speaking in tongues, it is not my desire to delve much into water baptism in this article.
It will be good to remember verses 46 and 47 as we later go into chapter 11. Peter will share something that sheds a different light on Acts 10 and the Gentiles than most Apostolics have been taught.
Acts 11: Peter Must Explain His Actions to Other Christians
We now turn to Acts 11, where it is shared that the apostles and some other believers have heard that the Gentiles accepted the word of God.
Peter is called to task by some upon his return to Jerusalem. He has gone into the home of a Gentile and eaten with him and others.
Please remember how the Jewish people viewed the Gentiles (unclean & unholy). This view didn't change automatically, just because they became believers in Jesus.
Some have the wrong impression that the book of Acts happened in pretty rapid succession. This is not so. It is estimated by some that the book of Acts covers a period of about 30 years. It appears that Acts 10 happened many years after the day of Pentecost, possibly 9 to 10 years later.
Peter responds and shares all that happened in an orderly fashion. He starts by sharing about when he prayed in Joppa and the trance & vision. He continues on, telling how the men came for him and we now find out how many other believers went with Peter to the home of Cornelius. It was six.
He then shares what Cornelius said and then how he started to share with the Gentiles and the Holy Spirit fell on them while he spoke. Here is where we need to pause again, at verse 15 of chapter 11, as it is significant and pretty much overlooked in Apostolic/Pentecostal circles.
Acts 11:15 is a key to understanding why the Gentiles spoke in tongues and that Acts 10 doesn't show this always happened. In the NASB it states: "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us AT THE BEGINNING." (emphasis mine)
Note that Peter didn't say something like, "The Holy Spirit fell upon them as he always does with every person who believes." He didn't say, "You well know that the evidence of receiving the Spirit is always speaking in tongues and the Gentiles did this." Instead, he takes them all the way back to the day of Pentecost when about 120 believers spoke in tongues after they were filled with God's Spirit. It happened to the Gentiles like it did to the Jewish believers on the day of Pentecost.
There is no mention that this was to be expected or that it happened all the time, consistently and without fail since Pentecost. It wasn't stated that this was some initial evidence that must and will always be seen when a person is baptized by the Spirit. Peter was simply saying that what initially happened about 9 to 10 years ago, happened once more when he preached Jesus to these Gentiles.
There is absolutely no indication in what Peter shared that should lead us to believe that speaking in tongues was a regular expected occurrence. Instead, he had to go all the way back to the day of Pentecost in his explanation. This would have been a perfect time for Peter to emphasize that tongues must/will always occur, if that was what happened and was believed among the early Christians. Please take some time to think about this instead of quickly defending a doctrine you may have been taught.
Peter then goes on to say that he remembered what Jesus had said about John the Baptist and them later being baptized by the Holy Spirit. He ends with sharing that if God gave the Gentiles the same gift as He did them after believing in Jesus, who was he to try and stand in God's way (remember Peter's vision- what God has cleansed, don't call unclean)? Peter would have stood against God if he had not preached Jesus to the Gentiles and water baptized them. He would have been calling unclean what God had cleansed.
Finally, the believers at Jerusalem were satisfied and rejoiced, believing that God now also granted to the Gentiles repentance that leads to life. (Think on this, too.)
Do you better see why God had to do the same with this group of Gentiles, as He did with the Jewish believers at the beginning?
If the apostles and other believers had not seen some type of sign that God truly accepted Gentiles the same as He did the Jews, they wouldn't have considered taking the Gospel to other Gentiles. They would have continued to shun them and consider them unclean and unholy. God needed to prove to them that His Spirit indeed resided in these Gentile believers and he chose to repeat what he did on the day of Pentecost. That would leave no doubt in their minds, even though those present were initially astonished.
I well know how difficult it can be when attempting to consider another thought other than what is being preached in your church. I wholeheartedly believed the Apostolic doctrines taught to me. Yet there comes a time when we must objectively look at what we have been taught and believe.
This is especially true when the teaching is nowhere to be found in the Bible. Yes, people can piece together a few instances of speaking in tongues in Acts and put together a doctrine that says they are the initial evidence of being baptized with the Spirit. But does the Bible itself actually teach this? Is there even one place in the Bible where we can read that speaking in tongues are something every believer will experience? Is there one place in the Bible that specifically says that there is an initial evidence of receiving the Spirit? Is there any place at all where the Bible states that everyone will speak in tongues when they are baptized with the Spirit?
If the teaching of Apostolics and Pentecostals is true, and tongues are such an important part of a Christian's walk with God, we should expect to see the teaching plainly and specifically taught a minimum of one time in the pages of Scripture. Repentance is clearly seen over and over again in the Bible. Water baptism is also clearly seen over and over again in the Bible. Where then is this teaching regarding speaking in tongues being initial evidence clearly seen in the Bible?
You may also want to read my article on Acts 19, found here.
You may write Lois at the email address displayed in the image. No correspondence that seeks to debate will be answered as I have no desire to debate. Understand that due to the volume of mail, not every email may be acknowledged.
Posted January 4, 2012
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